Sefer ha-Middot (Orḥot Ẓaddikim)

Middot are human dispositions or character traits. Sefer ha-Middot ("The Book of Character Traits") is a popular Jewish ethical treatise by an anonymous late medieval author; manuscript and other evidence suggest that it was already composed by about the year 1400. Its author was apparently of French origin. The book has been known as Orot Ẓaddikim ("The Ways of the Righteous") ever since its first edition was published under that title (Prague, 1581).

In 2001 I was privileged to notice a manuscript containing a previously unknown appendix to the book, which had been missing for centuries and was never previously published. That section is labeled Simanei Sefer ha-Middot in the manuscript ("Synopses of the Book of Character Traits"), and was mentioned by the author earlier in the book. It is now freely available here.

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Simanei Sefer ha-Middot

At the end of Sefer ha-Middot ms. Warsaw (1430), the oldest extant manuscript of the book, is a synopsis of the book's chapters (labeled Simanei Sefer ha-Middot by the scribe). This text fits as the missing summary referred to at the end of the chapter on Memory, where the author wrote: "And the synopses of the general points about human dispositions that are written at the end of the book, one should review them twice a day...". Thus, a part of Sefer ha-Middot that was missing for about six centuries has now been recovered.
  • The current edition of Simanei Sefer ha-Middot with a brief introduction, textual notes, and two formatted versions of the text (both with and without niqqud), last updated 5771 (2010)ODT (LibreOffice)PDF.
  • My very first published edition of Simanei Sefer ha-Middot, 5764 (2004): DOC | PDFNot updated.
  • An image of the manuscript: PDF.
    • A line-by-line transcription of the manuscript (draft quality): DOC.

    Sefer ha-Middot ha-Qazar (SMQ)

    An abbreviated version of the book as found in ms. Warsaw (1430); the division of some chapters and their sequence differs from all other manuscripts and printed versions. The original organization of the chapters in Sefer ha-Middot, unknown for nearly six centuries, can be recovered through this manuscript, solving some knotty problems in the book. This is also the earliest known manuscript of Sefer ha-Middot (Orḥot Ẓaddikim) by far, and as such can help with the correction of the text and dating the composition of the book.

    The following materials are currently available on Sefer ha-Middot ha-Qazar (SMQ). Please feel free to download and study them:
    • An image of the SMQ manuscript: DjVuPDF.
    • A transcription of SMQ (draft quality)DOC PDF.

    The Adler Manuscript

    The Adler manuscript is found in the private library of Dr. Mark and Leah Adler in Lawrence, NY. It is a handsome copy of the full book that was penned in 1486 (רמ"ו). Unlike other manuscripts, no parts of the book at all are missing in this copy (with the exception of the simanim). And although its text is far from perfect, its overall accuracy is relatively good compared to other extant manuscripts. Any corrected edition of Sefer ha-Middot must therefore take the Adler manuscript into account.

    The Adlers graciously allowed the book to be photographed for this project (it was never microfilmed for the IMHM). The high-quality photography was done in early 5774 by Rabbi Benjamin Houben, who worked as a volunteer in order to help further research on Sefer ha-Middot, and I am deeply grateful to him for his kind help and for the valuable time and expertise which he donated to this project. At present, copies of the digital photographs are held by myself, the Adler family, and Rabbi Houben. Permission to use them should be requested in writing from the Adlers.
    • Images of the end of the ms and its colophon: PDF. These were the first sample photos sent to me by Leah Adler; they are not Rabbi Houben's full, high quality photography.
    • A complete line-by-line transcription of the manuscript by myself.
    MS JTS and MS Adler: Another important manuscript of the body of the book, also apparently from the 15th century, whose accuracy is above average and whose text is highly similar to that of the Adler manuscript, is this one: JTS MS 10262 (SHF 1690:59). The JTS manuscript is missing a large part of the book (about the first 20% of the text from the beginning of the book plus its very end). The first extant page is from שער האהבה (beginning with the words האדם לאהבת כל אדם אשכילך ואורך). Unlike several seemingly later manuscripts which all end simultaneously with the words ועל כן נקרא האדם עולם קטן (and all of which thus presumably derive from a single manuscript that was missing the end from that point), the JTS manuscript contains about a page more (its final extant page goes up to the words וכמו שהאדם דומה מעט מזער לאלהים כן בנין גופו דומה לכל העולם עשה לו גלגולת הראש כמו רקיע השמים שעל הרקיע הזה עשה לו תקרה העליונה של פה ונטועות). In my opinion the Adler and JTS manuscripts are closely related, and it is even possible that both were copied from the very same manuscript (though not one from the other). Because they are so close, they serve as excellent tools for correcting one another, and a combination of the two should be the basis for a critical edition of the body of Sefer ha-Middot (while the organization of the chapters should follow MS Warsaw).

    New Digital Edition (2010)

    My work on Simanei Sefer ha-Middot has been incorporated within a new digital edition of the entire book found at the Hebrew Wikisource website. This is not a professional edition, but it does incorporate some important corrections and enhancements for the good of the reader.
    The new edition contains a wealth of information and materials. Much of what I have made available at this webpage in the past is now superfluous, but I will keep it all here in case someone eventually finds any part of it useful.

    Introductory essay

    Future Project: An introductory essay dealing with important ideas found in the book and its place within the genre of works on human dispositions (middot) in Jewish and general literature (from Aristotle to Spinoza and beyond).

    New critical edition

    Future Project: A new corrected, punctuated and vocalized edition based on all available manuscript evidence and including Simanei Sefer ha-Middot.

    Other online sources:

    Seforim Online hosts PDF versions of Simanei Sefer ha-Middot and related material:


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    Seth (Avi) Kadish,
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    Oct 17, 2010, 9:12 PM
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    Seth (Avi) Kadish,
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    Seth (Avi) Kadish,
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    Seth (Avi) Kadish,
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